Meet five local educators who make students and learning a community priority

Educational Leaders85086_0815-Cover

Meet five local educators who make students and learning a community priority. 

Compiled by Sondra Barr

Rita from starting blocksRita Robinson

School: Starting Blocks Academy, 42105 N. 41st Dr., Anthem

Position title: director

Number of years in position: Starting Blocks Academy is a new school. We’ve been open one year. Previously, for seven and a half years, I was the assistant director of Alhambra Preschool Programs––a preschool of over 750 students.

Education experience: Associates Degree: Early Childhood; Bachelor’s Degree: Elementary Education; Master’s Degree: Education Intervention.

What characteristics distinguish Starting Blocks Academy

Starting Blocks Academy is a Christian preschool. We offer the STEAM curriculum, that is, emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, with practical application to language and literacy development. Purposeful play is established to promote social-emotional development, higher-level-thinking skills, and the love of learning in a cooperative setting. Each member of our highly qualified teaching staff holds a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in education along with educational attainment and experience in early childhood.

Whats the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?

The first thing I do in the morning when I arrive at the academy is to ensure that everything is ready for students. Students should not be kept waiting. Materials and activities should be prepared and presented in a manner that will engage interest to learn the instant they enter the door. The second thing I do is greet the arrival of staff so that we can pray for children and their families, for our own personal challenges, and for the prepared objectives of the day.

What is the biggest challenge you anticipate facing for the 2015–16 school year?

After a successful year of implementing the STEAM approach to our learning environment, returning students will need to be challenged. Because students are blending words and writing letter streams as early as 3, we will need to capture their interest in continuing to learn in a fresh and new way. Therefore, we’ve added to our present environment a second Dramatic Play Lab for science, where they’ll do two to three weekly hands-on science experiments, recording results in science journals. We have established table easels to tell and retell a story with a friend, and we’ve identified additional creative art projects for each weekly theme.

What is your education motto?

My education motto is summed up in the scripture that lays the foundation for Starting Blocks Academy: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before you (Hebrews 12:1).” A day with preschoolers is filled with lots of energy, necessary play, conflict resolution, character-building opportunities, and a need for consistent, intentional positive support. A daily approach that dedicates efforts to move everyone forward in the learning process has the potential to produce a race of joy and great satisfaction.

What is the most important quality of a strong school leader?

The most important quality of a strong school leader is that of being a lifelong learner. A strong school leader will plan effectively with the intentional purpose of building a community of educators while being an active participant, and will be in the trenches long enough to encourage and empower while working together with a kindred passion and dedication.

How do you motivate your staff to go above and beyond?

Going above and beyond is a personal choice and often reflects the level of commitment as well as personal meaning and interest. The best motivation of staff, I have found, is to model a hardworking ethical approach, to communicate enthusiastically new discoveries, and to take time to reach out, listen, and support others individually.

How much work, if any, do you take home?

I suppose what I do looks like work to others. However, it is not to me. What I do as an educator is what I enjoy––keeping company with children. Wherever I may be—at the academy, at home, shopping, spending time with family or friends—I often find myself thinking and preparing for future moments of learning. I guess you can say I do not take work home; rather, I take home to work.

Dameon Blair, CaurusDameon Blair

School: Caurus Academy, 41900 N. 42nd Ave., Anthem

Position title: director/principal

Number of years in position: two

Education experience: 19 years in education

What characteristics distinguish Caurus Academy? 

Our school nurtures the intellectual, emotional, and social needs of the Whole Child.

Who or what most influenced your decision to become an educator? 

All of my mentors and role models in my life were very influential in guiding my decision to become an educator. They all made a huge difference in my life and they happened to positively influence me in ways that true educators do. They impacted everyone around them and helped me realize that I have that same passion and commitment to relationships and education. I was inspired by all of the educators around me that taught or coached because they loved their jobs. They showed me that if you choose a job you love, you would never have to work a day in your life. They showed me a road map to this belief, and I subscribe to it.

What is your education motto?

Education is the most powerful tool in the world. Sometimes, it can’t be assessed through diagnostic tests, but sometimes it can. As long as you’re learning on a daily basis, learning and education are happening. We must not forget that being a lifelong learner is just as important as having an IQ of 190. My IQ is nowhere near that; however, surrounding yourself with folks with diverse talents and skill sets allows for growth and productivity on a daily basis. This is what education and a school’s culture should be all about.

What special thing do you do that you think all principals should do?

I believe that principals should understand and know their school’s climate and culture intimately. Principals should focus on surrounding themselves with like-minded and passionate colleagues and educational stakeholders. When a principal is successful at that, they provide their school with the conditions for which it can flourish. Principals that choose the command-and-conquer route without knowing their community first tend to have more obstacles to overcome. This philosophical belief is a direct statement from a very passionate advocate in education, Sir Ken Robinson. I attribute my successes at Caurus Academy as the principal to this educational mantra.

What is the most important quality of a strong school leader?

The most important quality of a strong school leader, in my humble opinion, is the intrinsic motivation to foster productive relationships with your entire community. Sometimes, we forget that valuing relationships are the driving force behind success. At Caurus, we would not be who we are today if it weren’t for the power of the relationships that we have maintained and will continue to develop in the future. Dynamic relationships through communication, transparency, and integrity with students, their families, colleagues, and all community stakeholders are paramount to strong leadership.

How do you motivate your staff to go above and beyond?

This is a tough question. Just like students, teachers are unique and diverse. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to motivating an entire staff. I do, however, emphasize the need to be a cohesive unit with 100 percent buy-in to our community. Our teachers know that their decisions and actions are directly related to the whole school in one way, shape, or form. This means that what they choose to do will affect our community as a whole. Whether it’s positive or negative, everyone is affected in some way. When your staff buyss into the school culture and takes pride and ownership of it, they tend to go above and beyond on their own. From a leadership perspective, I feel that I have constructive relationships with all of the teachers and staff members to help them identify their ability and creative capacities to take their work to the next level.

NVCA-KretzmannNate Kretzmann

School: North Valley Christian Academy, 42101 N. 41st Dr., Phoenix

Position title: executive director

Number of years in position:five years at NVCA

Education experience: 31 years of education experience from preschool through university level

What characteristics distinguish NVCA?

As a private, Christian school, NVCA provides a program of education from a Biblical-worldview, not an “ever-changing cultural world-view.” NVCA focuses on building strong, trusting relationships that set the foundation for understanding and teaching in a way that challenges each child. Our school is a true family learning community that develops the whole child academically, socially, physically, and spiritually. NVCA students are prepared to thrive in all of life.

Who or what most influenced your decision to become an educator?

My parents. They created an internal passion for learning, and reflected and modeled a life of the highest integrity and service to others.

Whats the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?

Each morning, I gather with our entire school staff for a time of prayer for our students, families, the school, and each other. After that, I walk the building to make sure it reflects a high standard of cleanliness, safety, and excellence. When 7:45 a.m. hits, I try to be at our school drop-off to greet our students and families.

What is the biggest challenge you anticipate facing for the 2015–16 school year?

With the recent purchase of 10-plus acres for our new campus, the planning, preparation, and time requirements for this future vision can be demanding. This brings the challenge of keeping our school community focused on what happens now and to stay committed to the importance of achieving our programs goals for this school year. We must continue to work and improve on both the present and the future.

What special thing do you do that you think all principals should do?

Strive to lead with enthusiasm, passion, and integrity. See the glass half full, see possibilities, take hold of opportunities, embrace change, be real, work hard, stand firm in values, embrace healthy humor, expect excellence, delegate, invest in new leaders, read, read, read, and never stop learning.

How do you motivate your staff to go above and beyond?

We have an incredible faculty and staff at NVCA. They go above and beyond without needed extrinsic motivation. It’s an intrinsic motivation fueled by an understanding of who they are inside, their faith, and their love for their students. They are passionate about what they do and the impact they’re making in the lives of children and families.

What special thing do you do that you think all principals or educators should do? 

Take the time to build trusting, positive relationships with parents and children. Education is about relationships. Truly exceptional schools create a synergistic learning community of students, parents, staff, and others that’s of high expectations, challenge, care, respect, and love––yes, love. A school misses the mark if its only focus is on the mind––tests, memorization, numbers, scores, grades–not to diminish these at all when they’re kept in perspective. Knowledge is not wisdom––these are two very different things. A premier education to adequately prepare our children for the future includes addressing life issues that are much more challenging––learning forgiveness, understanding, compassion, selflessness, service, and hope.

Do you expect to finish your working life in this career?

Yes. It’s an absolute honor to challenge, nurture, build, support, guide, and love our students, parents, and families each and every day. My desire is that I will be able to continue to serve others in this way as long as possible.

Lauren Sheahan, BCHS_l_072114Lauren Sheahan 

School: Boulder Creek High School, 40404 N. Gavilan Peak Pkwy., Anthem

Position: principal

Number of years in position: seven years

Education experience: BA in French, MEd in administration and supervision

What characteristics distinguish your school?

Arizona School of Merit for Civic Education; Certificate of Academic Distinction; Certificate of Global Studies; Confucius Classroom; U.S. News and World Report Silver Award 2015

Who or what most influenced your decision to become an educator?

I love leading a place where teachers love to teach and students love to learn.

Whats the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning?

I welcome students to school in the Echo Circle.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during the 2014–16school year?

We have a tight budget in the state of Arizona. We’ve had to be creative in recycling items in new ways and partnering with local organizations.

What is your education motto?

Act locally, think globally, collaborate digitally, educate wholly.

What special thing do you do that you think all principals should do?

Love learning in kids and work for continuous improvement.

What is an unforgivable trait in a colleague?

Forgetting that we work with teenagers who are still learning a lot about life. We all make mistakes from time to time.

How do you motivate your staff to go above and beyond?

I celebrate their work publicly.

How much work, if any, do you take home?

As the principal, one is always “on call.” I spend a lot of time at work, so when I’m home, I try to focus on my family.

Grant GoodrichGrant Goodrich

School: Anthem Preparatory Academy, 39808 N. Gavilan Peak Pkwy., Anthem

Position: interim headmaster/assistant headmaster/master teacher

Number of years in position: This is my first year in this position but my sixth year at Anthem Prep.

Education experience: BA in religious studies and philosophy, MA in progress in English Literature

What characteristics distinguish your school?

Anthem Preparatory Academy teaches students the value of learning. Our goal is to train them to be great-hearted individuals, to be capable of learning and appreciating in all areas of life. To serve this purpose, our students have no electives except for the choice between the modern-language or the classical-language track. Every student reads Brothers Karamazov; every student performs in a number of musical concerts; every student performs a role in a play; every student takes calculus and physics. Our curriculum is not designed to prepare students for a particular, practical purpose in society like cogs in a great machine—our curriculum gives students a solid foundation for their lifelong education.

Who or what most influenced your decision to become an educator?

I was educated in Arizona public schools. I experienced the shortcomings of our educational system. I also grew to appreciate the few exceptional teachers I had and gained a passion for genuine, thoughtful teaching. My education also had many gaps and deficiencies. I want to do what I can to fill those deficiencies in today’s students. Students must learn to learn for learning’s sake. Of course, it can serve other, more practical purposes, but knowledge is like food—we will mentally starve and wither away without it.

When I began as a teacher in 2010, the headmaster of Anthem Prep at that time was Bryan Smith. His philosophy of learning, his passion, and his wisdom in the academy setting gave me something to strive for. His leadership exemplified what a true teacher is and instilled me with a lasting passion for teaching.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during the 2014–15school year?

The 2014–15 school year was busy. With a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and a baby, our home life was very full. I also was and still am working on my MA in English literature, which is time consuming. Combined with my duties at work, time management became critical.

What is an unforgivable trait in a colleague?

A good teacher is first and foremost a good learner. In a teacher, hubris and unteachability, an inability to admit wrong, and an unwillingness to humbly seek truth are destructive.

What is the most important quality of a strong school leader?

A strong leader must have wisdom. That is, he or she must be able to understand and work toward a vision while taking into account all particulars. The latter part of this is the most uncommon. A strong leader must understand, must have compassion for the concerns of all who are affected by the decisions being made.

How much work, if any, do you take home?

In many ways, education becomes a part of who you are. Even if I don’t bring a lot of actual work home with me, which I often do, I can never leave it all at work. I find myself constantly thinking about how a lesson could have been better, how I could have done more to reach a particular student, what I can do to help the rest of the educators at the school, and so on.

© 2018 85086 Magazine. A Division of Strickbine Publishing Inc.

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